'Slipstream' sculptor Richard Wilson says the work is a metaphor for travel

Huge sculpture for Heathrow's newest terminal

A sculpture at Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 2 is set to become one of the most viewed artworks in Britain, seen by 20 million passengers a year. The Queen’s Terminal opens for service on 2 June.

‘Slipstream’ by Richard Wilson RA was commissioned by Heathrow to welcome passengers to the £2.5bn terminal and has been curated by public arts agency Futurecity. Its twisting aluminium form is inspired by the world of aviation and captures the imagined flight path of a small stunt plane, calling up images of velocity, acceleration and deceleration in its twists and turns.

Weighing 77 tonnes and measuring 78 metres long, the sculpture is supported between two passenger walkways on four slim columns 18m apart. It contains 30,000 unique parts and uses more than 300,000 rivets.

Each part was digitally modelled using Dassault Systèmes’ 3DExperience Technology software. This ensured that the artist’s design intent was retained during Slipstream’s development. Engineering issues, such as structural integrity, exact fit, alignment and centre of gravity were fully understood and resolved digitally before the physical form was produced.

To make his design a reality, Wilson enlisted structural engineers Price & Myers and specialist Hull-based fabricators Commercial Systems International. The sculpture was manufactured in Hull in 23 giant sections where it formed part of the successful bid for Hull City of Culture 2017. It was then transported, piece by piece, to Heathrow in June 2013.

The new terminal was designed by Luis Vidal + Architects and has taken five years to complete. A spacious covered court connects the main transport links to the terminal building, which is characterised by an undulating steel-framed roof, oriented to the north, that floods the interior with natural light while minimising solar gain.

Heathrow’s publicity material says Terminal 2 reduces CO2 emissions by 40 per cent compared to the buildings it replaces and will be the first airport to be awarded a BREEAM rating for its sustainable building design.

The old Terminal 2 was Heathrow’s first, originally called the Europa Building, and was designed to deal with 1.2 million passengers a year. By the time it closed in 2009 it was handling eight million a year. Heathrow has invited the Queen to officially open her new terminal on 23 June.

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